Meeting Balmain Jolie Madame for the first time is an encounter that leaves one intrigued by the unpredictable personality of this beautiful stranger. The dazzling shimmer of the green floral notes has a lighthearted character, however as soon as one is ready to see a smile of its dewy heart, the veil of leathery smokiness falls darkening the gentle features.
Yet, predictability is not the quality that Germaine Cellier’s creations possess. One of the most avant-garde perfumers, she worked against the classical tradition by exploring the raw materials that most perfumers of her time would reject for their crude potency and strength. She was not afraid to overdose Balmain Vent Vert with galbanum, which made the fragrance seem as if it were exploding on the skin into the cascade of emerald dust. The original version of her Bandit possessed so much animalic robustness, it seemed almost shocking to wear in public. …
However, despite the fascination with extremes, Cellier could create beautiful compositions of remarkable grace. Jolie Madame is such an example—a ravishing sister of buccaneer Bandit, its silky layers hiding Bandit’s leather chypre accord. The intriguing tapestry of hesperidic, floral, woody and mossy notes that is the hallmark of the chypre fragrances has a rich quality of patina covered bronze.
An exploration of Jolie Madame is like a journey, with the scenery changing unexpectedly. Falling into the remarkable lushness of the heart, one discovers that its verdancy hides a surprisingly dark and creamy touch. A swirl of white petals and one emerges into the radiant glow that oakmoss and amber cast upon the base. The dry warmth of the base spreads slowly, seductively tender and surprisingly assertive.
The backdrop of smoky leather dispels any misconceptions about Jolie Madame being merely pretty. It balances out its powdery facets, creating a composition of interesting contrasts. The animalic darkness sets Jolie Madame apart from most of the feminine fragrances that tend to enjoy success at the moment. Certainly, it is a child of its time, however its complexity and sensuality are quite appealing.
Since its birth in 1953, Jolie Madame has received quite a few facelifts that left it rather altered. Warmth vanishing from its formerly sensual oakmoss and leather steeped base led its lovely face with a wry smile to attain a mask-like quality. The dewy florals losing themselves in the verdant foliage that characterized the original version are instead replaced with the brighter aldehydic top laced with green violets. My initial reaction upon experiencing the new version was an intense disappointment, although I have to admit that the drydown is more interesting than I originally thought, even if it is undeniably paler and less complex than that of the original version. It does not seem to attain enough depth before the fragrance begins to fade.
Notes include gardenia, artemisia, bergamot, coriander, neroli, jasmine, tuberose, rose, jonquil, orris, patchouli, oakmoss, vetiver, musk, castoreum, leather, civet. Jolie Madame is fairly easy to find online from a number of discount stores. The modern fragrance is translucent beige and comes packages in a rectangular bottle like the one depicted on Perfumemart website, while one of my bottles purchased five years ago is filled with ambery liquid and is packaged in a bow embellished bottle with rounded shoulders. The vintage bottles produced between the 50s-70s are identical to the ones shown in the advertisement.
Star rating: 5 stars–outstanding/potential classic, 4 stars–very good, 3 stars–adequate, 2 stars–disappointing, 1 star–poor.